I think I finally found myself. My attention was brought to a study called “Hidden Tribes.” The researchers used a combination of a national survey and interviews to identify seven distinctive political groups in the United States. The attitudes of individuals in those groups help to explain the tremendous polarization in our society.
On the far left is the Progressive Activists. They make up about 8 percent of our country. They are not only very progressive but they are also quite wealthy, well educated, secular and cosmopolitan. They check all the boxes for progressive causes as it concerns racial, gender and sexual inequality issues. They also were described as angry. They were the only group that did not tend to think that political correctness was a problem.
On the far right were two groups – Traditional Conservatives and Devoted Conservatives. They make up 25 percent of our country. As well as being politically conservative, they tend to be white, patriotic and religious. They stand out from the other groups on issues of immigration and American identity.
Progressive Activists are opposed to those two conservative groups on most political issues. But what they do have in common with them is less of a willingness to compromise on political issues than the other four groups. Those other four groups make up what the author of this work call, the “Exhausted Majority.” I am part of that Exhausted Majority.
This majority makes up about 67 percent of the country. (I would consider myself part of the Moderate group which is 15 percent of the country). Of course there is a lot of ideological diversity among such a large section of the population. But what we do have in common is that we are more ideologically flexible, more willing to find compromise for solutions, feel forgotten by our political culture, and are tired of the political fighting in our country. Those are qualities that define where I am right now.
For example, I am a race scholar. Clearly most race scholars are progressive activists. They tend to promote solutions such as anti-racism and multiculturalism. I understand those solutions and there are important aspects of such arguments that we must use to deal with our racialized society. On the other hand, there are those who promote some degree of colorblindness as the solution to our racial strife. So when we turn on the television news shows, what do we see? We see a race scholar arguing for an antiracism program pitted against a conservative arguing for colorblindness. And everyone thinks that these are the only two alternatives out there. And so our political culture, on racial issues, as well as most likely other issues as well, is dominated by leftists trying to defeat conservatives and vice versa. Both groups, with a “winner take all” mentality, hope to implement their solutions without input from their detractors from the other side of the political spectrum.
But are these the only solutions possible? This is where my perspective as being one of the exhausted majority can kick in. I think a third path is one tied to active listening. I have focused on promoting active listening to build consensus in the direction we should go on racial issues. It is my belief that unless we find solutions that a significant percentage of individuals can accept, then any program promoted now to deal with racial alienation will eventually be undermined by those who disagree with that solution. That is why I believe that the current winner take all approach from both the left and the right will not lead to lasting peace. Forcing people to accept solutions they do not want just creates more division, even if the programs themselves are good ideas.
Of course we will never find a solution that everyone agrees with. But if we all get a chance to have a say in creating a lasting solution to our racial alienation, then we will have buy in from distinct corners of our society. If we lose the winner take all mentality, we could eventually come up with a compromise that has both conservatives and progressives working together to sell that solution. In my vision we would have some people of color convincing other people of color to support the compromised solution and some white conservatives convincing other white conservatives to support that same solution.
So how many times have you heard someone talk about race in that way instead of a BLM approach or a “let’s just ignore race” mentality on a news program? Would this not be better than having news shows with angry people of color debating equally angry white conservatives? Those of us in the exhausted majority want to see real solutions being worked out rather than see which side has the better talking points. I think I switch back and forth between conservative shows on Fox and progressive shows on MSNBC and CNN in part because I hope to eventually see someone offer this common sense approach. I am constantly disappointed.My solution of active listening is a solution that would attract many in the exhausted middle. Those of us in that middle are not monolithic, and though I certainly cannot speak for all of us, I do wish that we were included more in the discussions of our political issues in order to try to move towards compromises and real solutions. Many in the exhausted middle would share with me the disappointment I have in all of the fighting that seems to dominate our political discourse. The greatest disappointment may be that we do not seem to get anywhere with all of this fighting except to increase the acrimony in our society.
I have advocated active listening as a way to deal with the racial divide in our society. I have also thought about it as a way to deal with the political polarization that plagues us as well. Perhaps if more of us demanded such solutions out of political leaders, then we might be able to move the political dialog in a healthier direction. But, one of the features of some of the exhausted majority is a disengagement from our political system. Those of us in the exhausted majority are not as active in the political sphere as those on the right and the left (which is another way those at the extreme are similar to each other). And the political actions of those with extreme political values provide them with an outsized impact on our political system.
I think being someone willing to look for compromises is one of the reasons why my conservative friends see me as liberal and my liberal friends see me as conservative. I have tried to talk to individuals across not only our racial divide but also across our political one. Yet, the political divide has become more difficult to navigate over the past few years. It does not have to be that way. We can see those who disagree with us as our fellow humans who think differently than us instead of enemies who have to be defeated. I think this is how those of us in the exhausted majority tend to see those who have different political ideals than our own. Perhaps this is something we can offer to those on both sides of the political spectrum.
Finally let me deal with an argument I saw when I shared the article on facebook. Some of my progressive friends and contacts commented on the fact that political correctness was not defined in the study. For them, they defined it as treating people with respect. The implication of their argument is that it is a term that has been stigmatized by conservatives, and as such it was unfair that the progressive activists stood apart from everyone else in support of political correctness. If the rest of us understood what the concept really meant, then we would be supportive of this idea as well.
I consider such a response even more evidence that we need to do a better communication job with each other. My progressive activist friends and contacts clearly have a different understanding of what political correctness means for other individuals. For many people, myself included, we are concerned about a new puritanical rule by cultural elites who sanction those who do not use the proper term or say the wrong joke at the wrong time. We are troubled by the free speech implications of what has been set forth by much of the activism in the name of social justice. Listening to the detractors of political correctness can provide these political activists insight into some of the real problems they have expressing their desires for our society in ways that turn people away from then rather than inspire others to join them in their causes.
If those on either side of the political fight want to reach those of us in the exhausted middle, then they are going to have to learn how to communicate with us in meaningful ways. This means listening to our concerns and trying to address them in ways that still ring true with the values on the left or the right. The group that can better accomplish that task will be in the best position to win the support of those in the exhausted majority. I fear that neither side is really concerned with our fatigue at this political fighting, and the exhausted middle will be ignored for the foreseeable future.
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